ConocoPhillips vs. Devon Energy: Which Is Better for You?

Among the independent exploration and production majors, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) and Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN  ) share a number of similarities. Both explore for undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves, and both purchase and develop those resources. They even hold similar geographic areas of focus. Both companies are heavily involved in production from some of the premier onshore regions in the United States, such as the Eagle Ford shale and the Permian Basin.

At the same time, you should know that there are some differences between the two. For one, ConocoPhillips is a more diversified company operationally. It's more evenly spread across both domestic and international plays, while Devon is a pure-play North American producer.

In addition, they hold different shareholder policies. ConocoPhillips is focused on returning a greater amount of cash flow to investors, which does more for you in the short term. Devon Energy, meanwhile, is more growth oriented—meaning it has more ambitious production plans which it hopes will allow for greater cash returns to shareholders down the road.

With all this in mind, here are some of the differences between ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy that can help you make a more informed decision if you're considering making an investment.

Devon gets domesticated
Devon Energy has undertaken a significant business restructuring over the past year, designed to shed under-performing assets outside the United States. Devon has raised a lot of cash that it can now plow back into promising domestic oil and gas fields. As the American oil and gas boom continues, Devon is making sure it isn't missing out.

For example, Devon recently closed on a large sale of its Canadian assets. It's unloading $2.7 billion worth of conventional oil assets and will use the proceeds to help finance its purchase of separate assets in the Eagle Ford shale. Last year, Devon bought $6 billion worth of assets at Eagle Ford from a privately held company.

The benefits from this domestication strategy are plain to see. Devon now generates the bulk of its production from the United States. For example, almost half of Devon's oil production will come from the U.S. this year. This trend will accelerate next year as its restructuring gains traction. Devon will generate almost two-thirds of its oil production next year from the U.S.

And, on an absolute basis, Devon's production is set to soar. The company expects total U.S. and Canadian oil production to rise 30% next year, driven by a 70% jump in domestic oil production.

ConocoPhillips has more modest production goals in mind. This has a lot to do with the inevitable law of large numbers. ConocoPhillips is a nearly $100 billion company by market capitalization. It's more than three times larger than Devon. As a result, it has a tougher time finding large enough projects to move the needle in a significant way.

That's why ConocoPhillips holds a long-term production growth target of 3%-5% compounded annually. It's more spread across international geographies and in product mix, which provides it more stable (albeit slower) growth. For instance, 24% of the company's first-quarter production came from North American gas. Another 18% came from international production and liquefied natural gas, with the remaining 58% coming from liquids.

ConocoPhillips' larger size and scale allow it to maintain a more impressive dividend than Devon. Whereas Devon yields only 1.3%, ConocoPhillips offers a 3.5% dividend yield. To be fair, though, Devon's higher growth allows for more rapid growth in its distribution. Devon just raised its dividend 9%, while ConocoPhillips' last dividend increase was about half that.

Growth now or later?
Both ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy are highly profitable companies engaged in exploration and production. The key difference that separates the two is where they are in their stages of maturity. ConocoPhillips is much larger than Devon, and its operations are spread further across different geographies. Its size and scale offers more stability, but Devon has a better growth profile.

The bottom line is that if you're a more risk-averse investor and you want a greater dividend yield, go with ConocoPhillips. On the other hand, if you're willing to take a little more risk, Devon has the potential for greater long-term growth.

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